The Douglas Horse Trams

Very much the Cinderella of the Manx transport systems the Douglas Bay Tramway (full details see Blogroll) is lucky to have survived into the 21st Century. Animal rights groups, motorists and general busy bodies have long railed against the continuance of the service but somehow it continues to stagger on. In my opinion the fortunes of the tramway reflects the ongoing decline of the IoM as a holiday destination. Today the service is run by Douglas Corporation and it might as well be bin trucks that they are running as there is little attempt to make the service attractive for tourists. The staff ‘uniform‘ has now degenerated into what ever the individual crew member chooses plus the regulation day-glo visibility jackets and even trousers! I know that safety must be top priority with the high level of road traffic on the promenade now but I think the level of visibility is totally OTT and makes getting a decent photograph all but impossible. Just how many passengers or members of staff have been mown down on the promenade anyway? Most, but not all, of the staff seem disinterested in their work and might as well be out on the bin trucks. Anyway these are just my personal observations and do not let them deter you from taking a ride on the tram.

I usually take the trip from end to end but the service is very flexible and many of the stops are very convenient to neighbouring hostelries. When I lived on the Island a trip from the Derby Castle end of the promenade would usually involve stopping off at least two or three pubs on the way home and of these I can recommend the Terminus Tavern, the Piano bar of the Empress Hotel (cool colonial feel to it), the Queen’s Hotel (nice outside seating area) and if you still have the stamina for more, the British Hotel and the Bridge Inn on the North Quay are good places to finish up. Needless to say I will return to subject of Manx pubs in future posts!

Once again I include the best YouTube video of the tramway that I can find but it doesn’t really capture the spirit of the thing and I will keep searching.

Some more from the Manx Electric Railway

This wonderfully evocative lithographic poster was produced by MER in its heyday (circa 1920) and gave the intending traveller a surprisingly accurate idea of the scenery that awaited them. One of those rare cases where the quality of the product far exceeds the advertising! I picked up this poster on eBay some years ago for a paltry £75 and I haven’t seen another since. However, for those of you hankering after a copy of it, there is an excellent book titled “Happy Holidays in the Isle of Man: Railway, Shipping & Holiday Posters” by Gordon N Kniveton which was published some years ago. It contains high quality colour reproductions of this as well as many other posters, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

That the MER’s advertising was a success can be judged from the traffic returns from 1925 which show the trams carrying a staggering 789,000 passengers and clocking up 330,000 miles in service. Today’s operation is far more modest but the vehicles and route are almost unchanged with the countryside little affected by urban development. While some of the Glens such as that at Garwick have been sold off, the bulk of them remain in Government ownership and, these days, you will probably have them to yourself. To me, the Groudle Glen is the most interesting due to the presence of the Groudle Glen Railway, while that at Ballaglass is the most beautiful and a peaceful place to escape the madding crowd.

MER advertising poster from the early 1920s.

The Isle of Man through the lens of Peter Killey

Surprising what you come across when looking for things on the internet, and yesterday while searching for a picture of the Forrester’s Arms Pub in Douglas I found the superb website of Peter Killey at http://www.manxscenes.com The site contains wonderful views of scenes from all over the Island including this one of the Steam Railway station taken from Athol Street. There can’t be many finer entrances to a railway station anywhere and it’s very nostalgic for me as I worked in Athol Street only a few paces from where the picture was taken and lived on Railway Terrace with an almost identical view of the hillside in the picture. Needless to say it has only made me more ‘homesick’ for the Steam Railway, and Green’s Cafe – for buns and ginger beer……. Anyway, if you haven’t been to Peter’s website check it out as you won’t be disappointed! See link to Manx Photographic Website in the blogroll.

Douglas Steam Railway station. Photo: Peter Killey (www.manxscenes.com)

The Manx Electric Railway – one of the wonders of Man!

An early MER handbill purchased from Australia.

No matter how many times I take the tram from Douglas to Laxey or Ramsey I never tire of it – the beauty of the scenery, the changing seasons, the wonderful sea air and the wind in my hair – if there is any comparable journey I’ve yet to hear of it. The trams started running back in the 1890s and have been rattling their way the 18 miles to Ramsey ever since. The same Victorian tramcars that operated back then are still in service and are very well maintained and internally are exactly as originally built. The Manx Electric Railway (MER) is the ideal way to explore the many glens along the north east coast of the island and, of course, by changing onto the Snaefell Moutain Railway at Laxey the summit of Snaefell can be reached – 2,034 feet above sea level.

Douglas to Ramsey takes an hour and a quarter; Douglas to Laxey thirty minutes. Douglas to the summit of Snaefell and back can be done in about two and half hours, but this doesn’t leave much time at the summit! If Snaefell is your intended destination pick a fine day otherwise your trip may be a wasted one as the summit is frequently swathed in mist with visibility down to a few yards. Formerly there was an hotel at the summit but in more recent times this has become a rather poor cafe (at least it was in 2005) and I haven’t heard of any improvement in the meantime.

Anyway, a description of a trip along the line and places worth visiting  will be covered in other posts and this is just a taster to draw your attention to the MER. I have linked to a  video of the line on YouTube which shows a journey from Douglas to Laxey but gives little clue to the wonderful scenery to be seen along the way. Surprisingly, there doesn’t appear to be an official MER video on YouTube – a wasted free marketing opportunity – and I will be raising the issue with the appropriate authorities.

The “Ben-my-Chree” in pictures but watch out for the singing!

Manx Institutions that I love/hate!

The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company and its ships hold a special place in the hearts and minds (or should that be memories?) of most Manx residents and visitors. Horror stories of rough crossings  and the cancellation of services due to bad weather resulting in empty supermarkets are legendary. And it can be very rough even in mid-summer as I have experienced but you get used to it, and if you can’t there’s always the plane from Ronaldsway but that’s for another thread. Hi-speed craft link Befast/Dublin with the Isle of Man in approx 2 hours 45 minutes (subject to weather conditions), while the Liverpool service is also handled by a fast vessel. The Douglas/Heysham service is operated by a conventional ferry the “Ben-my-Chree” and takes about 3 hours and 30 minutes. This is the flagship of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company but it seems to have been designed primarily for freight traffic with passengers very much of an afterthought. Despite several re-fits it remains unpopular especially when compared with earlier vessels such as the altogether more reliable “Lady of Mann” which sailed in the worst of conditions but with less discomfort to passengers. Certainly during the time when I lived on the island the Ben-my-Chree used to have its sailings cancelled at the first sign of bad weather which caused an anonymous local wit to compose this ditty:

Ode to the Olympic Flame

I’m lying here in Douglas; once again I did not sail

The Island has no papers and Marksies bread’s gone stale

I’m a brand new ship from Holland and the Ben-my-Chree’s my name

The slowest ship they’ve ever built and I’ve other claims to fame

I watch my little sister “The Lady” pass me by

She’s on her way to Liverpool, so why the hell can’t I?

She is 25 years my senior and only half my size

But I mustn’t go out there today, for fear I might capsize

I see the yachts out in the bay with all their sales unfurled

My chairman’s told my passengers I can sail throughout the World

To Tokyo or Sydney or even Santa Fe

But Liverpool and Heysham are just too far away

I lie here in the harbour, feeling so uneasy

My sailings have been cancelled because it is too breezy

I’m storm-bound here in Douglas and on my berth I lie

It really is embarrassing as a canoe goes paddling by

I’ve got another sister, she’s called a Super Cat

She takes day trippers to Liverpool but doesn’t bring them back

The Lady comes to the rescue; she always is on call

I avoid this situations by not leaving port at all

Now we’ve got a little system; it really is unique

It protects us from the elements when the weather is too bleak

My captains lights a candle and hangs it from my railings

And if the wind doth blow it out he cancels all my sailings

Missing Mann